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Feral swine issue a real porker

August 20, 2010
By Tim Kobasic

ESCANABA - I have spent a good part of my office time this week listening to the recording of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment and the Michigan Department of Agriculture Commissions as they met in joint session last week.

Having been deeply involved with Michigan conservation efforts over the last two decades, I was very disappointed to listen to the discussion regarding a proposed order from the MDNRE to make the feral swine classified as an invasive wildlife species in the state.

I have always suspected that representatives of agriculture did not like the hunting community and especially did not like outsiders, such as the MDNRE, looking into Ag business. It was a we/they impression that I wrestled with for years. I forced myself to hope that it wasn't true. The concept was dashed when I heard a comment from one of the MDA Commissioners during a reception the night before the joint meeting.

MDA Commissioner Audrey Herioux made the statement that "this is just the hunters trying to shut down game ranches in Michigan."

I thought we were all in this together. How dare we stick our nose in their business!

Also known as Russian Boar, these pigs are bred for the purpose of hunting. They are aggressive in nature and as wily as a coyote. They are tough enough on a big game farm. Imagine what you'd have if found free ranging.

The swine are opportunistic omnivores and if established in the wild, will compete against other predators for food and habitat. The real issue is the difficulty in keeping them in captivity within the confines of game ranches.

While the MDNRE and MDA met in joint session, the meeting was also attended by many who represent the game ranches and the general public. Some organizations came out in support of the order while others hoped for some form of compromise. In the end, it was the game ranchers and the MDNRE who agreed to sit down very soon and work out a plan to deal with the potentially volatile issue.

If left unchecked, as it appears to be happening in areas of the southern part of the state, the feral swine will rapidly create what some say are irreversible consequences. The closest comparison to it is the potential for irreversible damage if the Asian carp get into and establishes a population in the Great Lakes. If done, the lakes fisheries will be forever changed.

I have to admire the game ranchers because they, the credible businesses, recognize that there is a faction within the industry that is not conscientious and doesn't appear to care about the consequences just mentioned. The good guys have worked hard and have first rate systems to control their inventory of wild game.

The MDNRE Commission had wanted to resolve the issue three years ago and had brought it back last week, kind of like a line in the sand, because to date nothing has been done.

What I viewed from some of the representatives of the MDA on their role in the issue was disappointing.

MDNRE Wildlife Chief Russ Mason made his presentation that was to bring certain information to the front as to why he, on behalf of the NRC, felt the order should be adopted.

Mason recognized that any swine, be they domestic or bred for hunting, are not native to this country. The MDA reminded him that they were first imported back in the year 1590. So what? We're talking about 2010!

In fact MDA Commissioner Donald Coe traded semantics trying what appeared to be an attempt to confuse the issue about the sub-species of swine. He made an off-handed comment about how the MDNRE feels current orders allowing shooting free ranging pigs are not adequate stating "he respects the intelligence of the pigs." Did he insinuate greater than Mason and his presentation?

Mason related the complications occurring in other states that allowed feral swine to establish in the wild and included current damage estimates nation wide. Another MDA Commissioner quipped that Michigan deer are probably doing 10 times the amount of damage, yet offered no real numbers or sources.

The MDA also questioned Mason as to why importation of feral swine from Canada is not being stopped by the federal government as it is non-native to America? Mason, again, explained that there are no regulations in place regarding any measure of managing feral swine in this country. That is what the proposed order would do. The problem remains how significant a change to classify wild boars as an invasive species would be on established game ranches and their investment as a private business.

NRC Commissioner John Madigan was most adamant that this is the last chance for something to be accomplished. "We've waited patiently for three years. It has to happen now or we must move on the order," he said.

Director Becky Humphries assured all interested parties that they will convene work sessions very soon and will work closely with MDS Director Don Koivisto and Commission in seeking resolve.

That was the good news this week. The bad news is that on Wednesday, the Republican led Michigan Senate decided to reject the re-appointment of MDNRE Commissioners Madigan and Richardson, both from the UP, digging up an antiquated rule that gave them authority to turn down appointments made by the sitting Governor in an election year.

Makes you real proud doesn't it.


Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.



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